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A

CRITIQUE ON

S 377A

OF THE

PENAL CODE

OnOctober2014,theCourtofAppealrejectedanappealagainsttheConstitutionality
of S 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalised homosexual acts between two
males. It claimed, among other things, that S 377A passed the Reasonable
ClassificationTest,thestandardtestusedtoassesstheconstitutionalityoflawswith
respect to the Constitution of Singapore, that considering extralegal reasons was
beyondthepurviewofthecourt,andthatthiswasamatterforParliamenttolegislate
thecourtsdonotwanttobeaminilegislature.Thispiecehopestoelucidatethe
flawsoftheReasonableClassificationTest,theelaborateontheroleoftheCourts.
ThecourtsadoptedtheReasonableClassificationTesttoassesstheconstitutionality
ofS377AofthePenalCodewithArticle12(1)oftheConstitutionofSingapore,the
EqualityofProtectionclause.Accordingly,thesaidlawmusthave(i)anintelligible
differentiaand(ii)arationalconnectionbetweentheobjectiveofthelawandthe
intelligibledifferentia.Anintelligibledifferentia,putsimply,isaconsistentmeansto
identifyagroup,i.e.Gender,Race,Menwearingspectacles,WomenwithRedHair,
etc.
InS377A,theintelligibledifferentiaishomosexualactsbetweentwomales,whilst
theobjectiveoftheactistoenforcesocialmorality.Sincethereisarationalrelation
betweenthedifferentiaandtheobjective,thecourtsruledthatthereisacomplete
coincidence, and thus S 377A was constitutional. Evidently, the Reasonable
Classification Test is a rather nonstringent test, and grants the legislature great
flexibilityinpassinglawsthatarediscriminatory,yetconsistentwiththeConstitution.
Itfailstoprotecttherightsofthemarginalised.
Parliamentcould,forinstance,passalawbanningwomen(whoareexcludedfrom
Article12(2)oftheConstitution)fromdriving,andyethavethelawstillconsistent
with the Constitution. Using the Reasonable Classification Test, the intelligible
differentia(women)has arationalconnectionwiththeobjective(banningwomen
fromdriving)ofthelaw,andthusisconstitutional.Whilstitwouldbeabsurdto
assumethatParliament,heldunderthescrutinyofthehighlycriticalandincreasingly
knowledgeableelectorate,wouldeverpasssuchadiscriminatorylaw,thepointthatit
could,theoreticallyspeaking,isstillimportant.
Anotherproblemwiththetestisthatitisfairlymalleable.Ifweframeourobjective
inanextremelybroadmanner,i.e.toprotectthemoralityofsociety,thenitisrather
easy to find a complete coincidence between our intelligible differentia and that
objective.

Whatexactlyissocialmoralitythough?Arethesurveysconductedbyparliament
conclusiveoftheviewpointsofthegeneralpublic?Researchers,attheWeeKim
WeeSchoolofCommunicationandInformationatNTU,havefoundthatin2010,out
of 959 people surveyed, a whopping 64.5% of them felt negatively towards
homosexuals,whileonly25.3%ofrespondentsexpressedpositiveattitudes.Indeed,
Singaporemayyetbeunpreparedfor377Atoberepealed.Surveying959people,
which comprise of only 0.01% of Singapores 5 Million populations size, and
claimingthatitisconclusiveoftheentireviewpointsofthegeneralpublicis,andany
knowledgeablestudentwillvouchforme,amajorstatisticalfallacy,thefallacyof
composition.
With almost 26,000 people trampling on the grass of Hong Lim Park, singing,
dancing, and interacting with each other during the 2014 Pink Dot Movement, it
seemsplausibletosaythatthereisachangingsocialdynamicinSingapore.Relying
onthatarchaicsurveytoclaimthatthesocialmoralityinSingaporeisonethatis
disapprovingofHomosexualityissimplyuntenable.
Perhapsitwouldbebettertoadoptamoresubstantivecriterionastowhatconstitutes
anintelligibledifferentia:thedifferentia,thougheasilyunderstood,cannotbeso
unreasonableastobeillogical/incoherenttherebybeingunintelligible.Thiswould
add a more substantive bite into the Reasonable Classification Test, and would
definitelyhelpbetterprotecttherightsoftheminorities.
Yet, who defines what exactly is unreasonable? Is it under the purview of the
courts, an unelected body of Government, or Parliament? Barring judicial
incompetence,Iwouldputmyfaithinjudgestodecide,inaccordancewiththebasic
principlesofnaturaljustice,whatunreasonablenessconstitutes.Afterall,wegive
themsuchdiscretionsindecidingunreasonablenessinthecriminallaw.
Itisimportanttonotethatbystrikingdownalawasunconstitutional,thecourtsare
not becoming a'minilegislature'.Itis merelyasking Parliament torelookatthe
particularlaw,andtodosomethingaboutit,givingthemarealincentivetoact.The
UK courts have issued Declarations of incompatibility, with the ECHR, on
numerous occasions, and we hardly see UK judges quibbling about themselves
usurpingtheirjudicialfunction.Instead,theyseeitasanecessaryaspectofhaving
checksandbalancesandupholdingtheRuleofLaw.
Perhaps the way forward is for us to create a groundup movement to pressure
ParliamenttoextensivelylookattheissuesatstakeinkeepingthearchaicS377A,
wherethelastreviewwasin2007.Hopefully,thecourtswouldreconsidertheuseof
theReasonableClassificationTest,anduseamoresubstantivetesttofurtherprotect
therightsofindividualsinSingapore.Itwillbeabigleapifweadoptsuchastance,

andprogresstowardsamoreliberalsociety,whereminorityrightsareprotectedand
contrarianbeliefsareallowedtoflourish.